Following the country’s shutdown last spring, business analysts theorized a “startup depression”—new companies would hesitate to enter the job market because of the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
Mariem Bchir ’19 and LEAPS Academy are fighting those odds.
Last fall, Bchir and Walid Hedidar—a graduate from the University of Denver and current UNESCO Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education—were awarded a microgrant through The Hurt Hub’s Avinger Impact Fund for their project LEAPS Academy, a tutoring service for educators in Africa and the Middle East.
Each Fall and Spring, The Hurt Hub offers seed funding through the Avinger Impact Fund, a competition for aspiring Davidson entrepreneurs who “demonstrate a serious commitment to their proposed venture.” Launched in the honor of retired Economics professor Dr. Robert L. Avinger Jr, the Fund awards microgrants up to $10,000 to jumpstart their ideas. In Fall 2019, three projects were awarded grants: FundNet—proposed by Sebastian Charmot ’22 and Oğuzhan Colkesen ‘22—Impact Network—engineered by Emre Koc ’20, Altan Tutar ‘20, and Huseyin Altinsik ‘21—and LEAPS Academy, co-founded by Bchir.
LEAPS Academy “aims [to] revolution[ize] the design, delivery, and evaluation of teacher education…[and] create a network of super teachers…[to] develop students’ potential, reform educational structures, and revive learning ethics,” writes Bchir. LEAPS students complete a five-point curriculum, including training in leadership, ethical frameworks and trust-building, the “art” of teaching and experimental styles, educational psychology, and classroom construction.
Bchir founded LEAPS to combat the “educational crisis in Africa,” she says. Specifically, Bchir contends students in Africa and the Middle East struggle to access a quality education. By providing teachers “with support and training,” Bchir thinks students will have access to an education that will generate change “in and out of the classroom.”
Initially, LEAPS intended to use the Avinger award to cover the costs of the program’s initial training in Tunisia. Given the unprecedented conditions imposed by COVID-19, LEAPS had to adapt: “The COVID-19 pandemic changed the trajectory of this year’s timeline,” Bchir writes, “we had to think outside the box and bring a more creative approach to teacher education. Since the beginning of the outbreak, we have been working on designing webinars for teachers in Tunisia and working on a virtual strategy for future work.” In fact, LEAPS has already made progress on designing virtual resources: “So far, we have organized a virtual webinar for teachers around education in times of cris[is]…We are also planning on shifting our summer training online.”
By the end of the year, Bchir plans to “invest the funds in providing accessible technology to our teachers [while] also preparing…our marketing strategy” including establishing LEAPS as an LLC in the US.
Beyond The Hurt Hub’s financial support, LEAPS’s exposure to the support team at the Hub trained them to adapt to unpredictable conditions. “The Hub… provided the space and mentorship for LEAPS…[We] enjoyed brainstorming and creating content over the weekends in the Hurt Hub@Davidson. Furthermore, we participated in several competitions such as Failure Fund, Venture Fund, and Avinger Fund [which] provided mentorship from amazing mentors.” In particular, Bchir wished to “shoutout” Evan Charles Rozantes of Launch Academy and Connyre Corbett from Corvos Labs + Venture Studio, who serve as the LEAPS team’s mentors. “They [to this day] continue [to] encourage us and give us constructive feedback.”
While some worry of a “startup depression,” LEAPS Academy exemplifies how small startups can pivot according to the economic climate and continue to develop. Perhaps having the ability to adapt will, in turn, develop into a successful business.